Saturday, 3 March 2012

Enigmata Saxonica nuper inventa duo...

These riddles, composed by J.R.R Tolkien, were first published in A Northern Venture in 1923. They were included in the second annotated edition of The Hobbit, but were removed from subsequent editions (for reasons unknown). Very clever, I daresay.

Meolchwítum sind marmanstáne
wágas míne wundrum frætwede;
is hrægl ahongen hnesce on-innan,
seolce gelícost; siððan on-middan
is wylla geworht, wæter glæs-hluttor;
Ðær glisnaþ gold-hladen on gytestreamum
æppla scienost. Infær nænig
nah min burg-fæsten; berstaþ hwæðre
þriste þeofas on þrýþærn min,
ond þæt sinc reafiaþ - saga hwæt ic hatte!

In marble of milk-white are
my walls wonderfully wrought;
a delicate garment is hung within,
just like silk; since in the middle
desire is filled, water glass-clear;
There glistens gold-laden in still streams
the shiniest apple. No one has entered
my fortress fast; nevertheless will burst
thirsty thieves in my splendid hall,
if that treasure reave - say what I'm called!

Hæfþ Hild Hunecan hwíte tunecan,
ond swa réad rose hæfþ rudige nose;
þe leng heo bídeþ þe læss heo wrídeþ;
hire teáras háte on tán bláte
biernende dreósaþ ond bearhtme freósaþ;
hwæt heo sie saga, searoþancla maga.

Hild Hunecan hath a white tunic,
and hath a ruddy nose as red as a rose;
the longer she bideth, the lesser she riseth;
her tears glowing hot on a twig lividly
burning fall dead and in brightness freeze;
say what she is, man of wisdom.

Old English riddles are largely anthropomorphic. Many found in the Exeter Book describe common objects in the day-to-day life of the Saxons, revealing an earthy similarity between rustic implements or weapons and the people or animals who use them. The solutions to the riddles are often surprising; in fact, some of them are just as bawdy as any modern innuendo, though most are serious in tone and are rather inciteful. They are, as a rule, told in the first person, and in some, the subject describes itself to the reader, even if it is inanimate. Can anyone guess the answers?
Art: Riddles in the Dark by Alan Lee.

1 comment:

  1. The answers to the riddles are, of course, an egg and a candle respectively. Thanks to my friend Tom for figuring them out for me!